The challenge of this event was to get children excited about the wild plants that are springing up in this tiny park space tucked away in a high-rise corner of Peckham. The park used to be a canal and towpath; in fact, if you look carefully you can still see the cobbles of the wharf. Further along you can pretend to be a barge-horse walking under the beautiful Victorian iron bridges.
I love this space so much that I have used it as the setting for more of my more grown-up ghost stories. It’s particularly atmospheric in winter.
But back to yesterday. Friends of Burgess Park have worked very hard to raise substantial funding for a community food garden. The possibilities are opening up at last: a communal bread oven, natural bee-keeping and an allotment garden that everyone can share. Yesterday was just the start of a brilliant sustainable community project.
I had a mixed crowd, with children aged between 8 months and 12 years. We started off by looking at the tall grass growing wild by the way. I was surprised to find that none of them had ever sung the old playground rhyme using a stalk of ‘false oats’: “Here’s the tree in summer (hold up ‘tree’), here’s the tree in winter (strip seeds and hide in the other hand), here’s a bunch of flowers (show the bunch of seeds) and here’s the April showers (spray seeds all over the other person…)” But everyone, including the adults, soon got into the spirit.
For me, the most exciting moment was telling a story about an enchanted Elder tree which could be made into magical flutes and held secrets – and then going en masse to see a real Elder growing by the bricked-in canal. Children were amazed to work out for themselves that a hollow Elder twig could easily be made into a flute… and they all wanted to bury their own secrets among its stony roots as well as taste the revolting berries. Meanwhile the adults all enjoyed delicious jams and cordials made from blackberries and medlars growing nearby.